One thing I’ve learned about the Boston rock scene is that bands from here are often as locally-conscious as their New York counterparts, constantly name-checking local streets, hangouts, and bands. The Real Kids are a stellar example (frontman John Felice probably learned it from the master of name-checking himself, Jonathan Richman, when Felice was in an early lineup of the Modern Lovers). Here’s a stanza from their “Better Be Good:”
Everywhere I go I hear kids talking,
“There’s nothing going on. The town ain’t rockin’ Like it did before
Way back in ’64″
When we were rocking with The Ramrods
When we were shaking with The Pandas
You know it don’t seem the same
Without The Remains.
The lyrics stand as a Rosetta Stone, highlighting some of the best of the mid-60s Boston scene. The Remains are probably our most famous mid-60s export, going down in history as an opening act for the Beatles, a featured part of the Nuggetsbox set, and even briefly highlighted in the movie Superbad. “The Ramrods” is probably a reference to the Rockin’ Ramrods, a group which came shortly after the Remains, was featured on a volume of Pebbles and still seem to be somewhat active today. For a good while, though, I couldn’t figure out who “The Pandas” were. It wasn’t until after some sophisticated Google searching that I figured Felice is probably referencing Teddy and the Pandas, an all-but forgotten 60s pop band from Beverly, Mass. With a little more searching I managed to turn up their only album, a 1968 lost gem called Basic Magnetism.
The album is a beautiful artifact of the Sundazed-psych era, with baroque-like numbers including “Shine A Little Light,” “Childhood Friends,” the goofy “At The Debutanes’ Ball,” and the deliciously fuzzy title track. “Kona, Idaho” is a surprisingly complicated song, hopping from meter to meter like a peculiar bridge from late-period Beatles and the prog-rock songs to come in the 1970s. (Speaking of late-period Beatles, “Raspberry Salesman” quite plainly evokes a certain psych-laden song about fields of small red fruit, released around the same time.) Amidst all of this steady 60s rock gets its due with “Running from Love” and “Crossing Man.” Clearly drawing more from the Remains than the hard-edged rockers which dominated garage rock going forward (like the Real Kids, for that matter), the Pandas stand like the last of the innocent 60s: not angry, but not bubblegum either, and a wonderful accompaniment to a hot summer day.
So today, 68 days from September, I decided to post up the Panda’s “68 Days ‘Til September.” Hope you enjoy it. Find out more about the band here and here, and buy their stuff here.
I do a lot of musical dumpster diving. This can lead to some interesting discoveries.
Last week, while browsing the collection of Twisted Village, I came across another volume in hyped2death‘s masterful, fly-by-night DIY/punk/no-wave anthology “Homework.” I used it as travel music all day yesterday. And that’s when I discovered this little chestnut:
Buddha Collection – Mr. Potatoman
According to the liner notes, this is a self-released (no kidding!) cassette tape from LA. Interestingly enough, it’s supposedly from 1991, which makes it a bit of an outlier in a compilation dated 1978-83. Perhaps hyped2death added it as a joke? Here’s more info from their website:
The mindboggling genius of Buddha Collection? Well, Jonathan Grillo was 11, and that’s his cousin Sally (who was not my wife at the time) on tabletop organ. There are rumors of another tape which we’ll keep digging for if you ask nice… “Mr. Potato Man” was completely ad-libbed, bytheway.
At any rate, I cannot stop listening to this song for the life of me. I mean, sure: it’s terrible. But it’s terrible in some profoundly engaging way I can’t quite label. I think it’s in the urgency and minor-key (or perhaps modal?) voicing layered above the organ. Would that we all could sing with such energy.
Also, that thing is not leaving your head all day. I’m sorry.
(And hyped2death: consider this as me asking nice.)
Update 10 June: be sure to read Chuck from Hyped2Death’s response in the comments. Thanks for the details!
After finals effectively destroyed any chance of keeping up with my feeds, I turned on my RSS reader for the first time in a couple weeks. I was met with over 4000 items. There’s no way I’ll be able to give these a full treatment (and to pile these all together makes for pretty scattered reading), but here are a few highlights:
My buddy Greg Whitney is featured in an Emerson student’s profile of Boston’s own Louie (better known as The Tricycle Man). Seeing this made me miss Boston more than anything else during finals week.
Thanks to Bostonist and Ms. RDP for the scoop.
Swineophobia hit close to home this week. My Alma Mater Northeastern opted to forgo with handshakes for commencement. I don’t think the Garden counts as a “small confined space” to avoid under VP Biden’s analysis.
Early reports from the iTunes Music Store’s new variable pricing system are not favorable. Digital Music News reports that revenues are down, and consumers are increasingly leaving iTunes in favor of other alternatives.
The Boston Globe did a nice profile of Justice Souter’s hometown of Weare, NH. I was a little surprised to find that Justice Souter lives relatively close to my house. He lives a few dozen miles due north of me, straight up Rt. 13 (which turns into NH Rt. 77 in Milford). To help understand his (and to an extent, my) upbringing: equidistant from our towns is Peterborough, NH, best known as the town credited as the inspiration for Grover’s Corners in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. I feel a deep affinity for that play, and the towns in the Monadnock region that it celebrates. I have a feeling he does too. While I’ll miss reading Souter’s opinions, I’m sure he’ll enjoy his return to our figurative neighborhood.
On a related SCOTUS note, Justice Scalia’s opinions on the “privacy right” (which GWU Law Professor Dan Solove characterizes here) were tested when Fordham University Professor asked his legal privacy class to create a dossier on Scalia. Scalia responded with gusto.
Is A&R dead? Music Think Tank poses the question, and the comments are generally in favor of the rarified profession. (I for one still prefer my old sensei Dave’s joke on the subject: “How many A&R guys does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” “I don’t know. What do you think?”)
A lot of people complained that the White House photo op of Air Force One over NYC could easily have been done in a matter of an hour or two on Photoshop. Scott Kelby demonstrated, creating a rather lovely shot that could have saved us over $300,000.
I hope to be back to more regular schedule now that my 1L year is over and the summer has begun. I make my return to Boston tomorrow; can’t wait to see you all. And to my new DC friends: congrats and thanks on a wonderful year, and I hope to see a lot of you up here or down there soon.
The other week I picked up Ratatat‘s Classics on vinyl (from Red Onion Records on Record Store Day, naturally). In one of my more… erratic… moments last night, while preparing for today’s final, I decided to try playing the album both forwards and backwards as study music. In doing so I discovered that the song “Wildcat” sounds really awesome both ways, so I just hovered on that track for most of the rest of the night. Ryan thinks it’s pretty cool too. You be the judge:
In what’s becoming an annual early-spring tradition, over the weekend I spent some quality time with Gretchen and Michelle (both fabulous women, the latter of which just so happens to be having a birthday today) wandering the record stores of Brooklyn and the Village looking for good music. I found a bunch this time around; here are my favorites:
Upon arrival we hung out with a bunch of the house DJs at Green Point bar Matchless. The crew at Matchless play some of the best funk/soul/rockabilly/country 45s you will ever hear, and the group were spinning up a storm. One of them played this classic Nathaniel Mayer track, which belongs on any party mix:
Nathaniel Mayer – (I Want) Love and Affection (Not The House of Correction)
Over at Other Music I discovered BrooklynPhiladelphia artist Kurt Vile. He’s got an incredibly psych/lo-fi/homespun feel about him, mixing ambient noise and droning guitars with some lovely singing (colored under layers of filter and reverb) and natural pop sensibility. I’ve been listening to his record, Constant Hitmaker, every morning since I picked it up.
Kurt Vile – Freeway
I also discovered Yo La Tengo side project Condo Fucks while there. I suppose when you’re the single coolest indie rock band on the planet you can convince your label to put out anything. Here, they created a fictitious New London, Connecticut 60s garage rock band and had them “reunite” in time to do a ton of 60s and 70s covers. In preparation for listening to this, I’d recommend putting on Don’t Press Your Luck! The IN Sound of 60′s Connecticutfor historical context. The album artwork is killer, complete with a fabricated back catalog of older Condo Fucks records (with hits like “I Hate Nutmeg,” “Let’s Get Rid of New Haven,” “Merritt Parkway Freeze-Out,” “New London Calling,” and “The Girl From The Outlet Mall”) and a letter from Joe Lieberman, thanking the band for all of their help during his 2000 Presidential Campaign. Here’s a Slade cover they put on the album’s closer:
Condo Fucks – Gudby T’Jane
Speaking of 60s garage rock, rock reissuers Past & Present put out an amazing double album compilation featuring two 80s compilations of 60s garage rock (music really is cyclical): Off The Wall Vol. 1 & 2: Off The Wall & Skeletons In The Closet. This mainly features American garage rock, including a lot of fantastic midwest garage bands. Here’s a sample:
The Opposite Six – I’ll Be Gone
And to round this off with something really peculiar, fans of the Buddha Machine (like me) will appreciate this Tristan Perich concept album:
That’s not cool album artwork. The album is an 8-bit electronic piece, programmed into the console in the center, and hand wired by Perich to run inside of a jewel case (that black gizmo all the way on the right is a 1/8″ headphone jack). The CD itself is playable. How’s that for inefficient retro-futurism?
This is probably as good a time as any to mention that Saturday is Record Store Day. Stores all over the country celebrate with in-house performances and sales. Be sure to go out and support your local music scene.
(a mark I Buddha Machine, left, and a new mark II Machine)
(This is the second installment of a series I plan to do highlighting some of my favorite study music while I’m here in law school – you can read my first over here.)
I first learned about FM3 and the Buddha Machine in an issue of The Wire from 2005. FM3 are two Chinese electronic artists who were inspired by meditation machines sold in their country – which would generate repeating loops of Buddhist chants – and created their own repeating electronic drone device at a Chinese factory using various cheap electronic parts. The music and these machines (selling at about $20-$30 a pop) permeated throughout the electronic music world, appearing in hipster lofts and commercial albums alike (there have been whole tribute albums using only Buddha Machines, but I think one of the best uses was Bill Frisell’s cover of “Spanish Ladies” on Rogue’s Gallery).
In November FM3 announced a new version of the Buddha Machine with new loops and a few other small upgrades. I just got mine today, and I have to say, it’s awesome. I don’t know how to exactly describe the appeal of this device, but it has an undeniable allure. It’s essentially a cyberpunk pet rock for music buffs. I use it for meditation or background music while reading (which I do a lot here in law school), and I’ll often put it on while sleeping or hanging around my apartment. I realize that my second installment of this (started and promptly abandoned) series isn’t an album at all, but it is one of the best tools I have for listening while I work; this series would feel inadequate without mentioning these little guys. The new version is especially good, as the loops have a bit more diversity in tones and dynamic depth to them, and the machine has a pitch bending knob which adds a great little variable in output. It’s definitely worth picking up.
The beautiful thing about Tom Waits albums is that the songs are not only masterfully constructed individually, they are delicately arranged to create thematic highs and lows over the course of an album. It is because of this that, with a few sentimental exceptions, I always tend to listen to Waits by the album, as opposed to by the song. Rare is the circumstance where I will put my Tom Waits songs in shuffle, mainly because each song fits so snuggly with the one before it. I find myself wanting to listen to Small Change as opposed to just “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart (In Lowell)” or “Step Right Up.” This also makes Tom Waits an excellent choice for vinyl, although unfortunately the free market has seemed to agree with me a bit too strongly. It’s damned expensive to buy Waits on vinyl these days.
His 1985 masterwerk Rain Dogs is a fitting example, and happens to gel quite nicely with my mood when I start studying. The opening track, “Singapore” and followups “Cemetery Polka” and “Jockey Full of Burbon” institute an almost-piratic mood, capturing the sort of heave-ho pysch-up one sometimes needs to crack open an 1000-page textbook on contract law. By the halfway mark on Side A there’s a comfortable mid-tempo swing with “Big Black Mariah” and “Hang Down Your Head” (colored with tracks like “Diamonds & Gold”) that keep a driving beat with just enough disjointed instrumentation to keep the right side of my brain entertained while the left pours over more text. Ending Side A with “Time” slips the music to an almost subconscious level, so more often than not I’ll have the album running on the lock-groove for a couple of minutes before I notice. This does help me be more productive, as inevitably you can work better in near-total silence than you can with music running in the background. I don’t mean to undercut the beauty of “Time” in saying that I use it to ignore the song. I consider it one of the sweetest love songs of all time (for what it’s worth, I think “Johnsburg, Illinois” is the absolute best, but I sway on that one).
The cycle nearly repeats on Side B, with the title track wasting no time in slipping me back into that shanty-worksong groove that eminates through most of he album. The second half is an excellent mix of epic tunes like “Blind Love” and “Downtown Train” cut with little ditties like “Bride of Raindogs” and “Midtown.” This side is slightly less cohesive as the previous, but not so disconnected as to distract. The last track, and the one Scarlet Johanson used to title her Waits tribute album, “Anywhere I Lay My Head,” is an amazing end to the album, with Waits simply belting the last few words and a bit of a New Orleans-swing coming in at the very end, as if to signal to the listener that it’s time to put on another record.
As hinted above, to get the full effect you have to check this album out on vinyl (vintage can run you up a pretty penny, but I found a reissue at Newbury Comics on the cheap). For those of you seeking more mobile or less physical music, you can download Rain Dogs from Amazon right here. Hope you enjoy.
“Frank’s Wild Years” was the name of a song off of Tom Waits’ desert island album Swordfishtrombones. Seriously, if you haven’t heard this song or the album stop reading and download it off of Amazon. In 1987, four years after the aforementioned album, Mr. Waits and wife Kathleen Brennan took Frank’s story and turned it into “Un Operachi Romantico in Two Acts” called, well, Franks Wild Years (don’t know why the apostrophe is omitted, but I’m preserving the title as written). The soundtrack to this conceptual play actually has some of my favorite material from Waits, and if you know how obsessed I am with this artist you’ll appreciate how much that means. Whoever introduced Tom Waits to Marc Ribot deserves a lifetime Grammy for that act alone.
One track from this album, “Way Down In The Hole,” has garnered some attention thanks to its inclusion as the theme to HBO’s The Wire – originally covered by the Blind Boys of Alabama, but later as done by Steve Earle, The Neville Brothers, and DoJaMe (and for the second season, the original album cut by Waits himself). This much-warranted attention has brought a lot of interesting covers, including most recently a cover by M.I.A., as noted in Gorilla vs. Bear and several other sites.
As we wind out this week (and what a week it has been, I might add) I wanted to put up my favorite version of this song. This is Tom Waits from the movie “Big Time,” which is a treasure to watch and nearly impossible to find. When the Coolidge had it playing for two nights back in April 2006 I watched it both nights. It really is that good.
So enjoy, and have a good night. I have a busy weekend ahead of me, as always, so I might be a little quiet. But thanks for all the increased readership over the past couple of weeks. You guys are great.